Inflammation: The Body on Fire!
Inflammation is our immune system’s response to an infection, irritation, or injury. It’s a common occurrence: we see it whenever we twist an ankle and it swells up, or when a popcorn kernel gets stuck in our gums, making the area sore and swollen. The inflammation arises when immune cells have been called to the site through the bloodstream. These cells produce proteins called cytokines, which are responsible for calling in T-cells and B-cells to fight the infection or injury. You experience this as a warm, hot, or swollen area. This is a normal reaction to a trauma, and without it, our wounds would never heal.
With chronic inflammation, there is no swelling or pain, but your immune system is producing silent inflammatory cytokines, starting little fires all over your body. The result is the destruction of healthy cells and tissues.
Chronic inflammation is present in all autoimmune conditions, from Graves’ and Hashimoto’s to rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, lupus, and others!
Causes of Inflammatory Stress
The cause of chronic inflammation often can be linked to our individual sensitivities, and to toxins, infections, chemicals, foods, and even certain emotions. Over the years, these sensitivities become more and more apparent, and as our body burdens increase, our inflammatory responses become magnified.
Over time, many of us find it difficult to tolerate the things we’ve been exposed to for decades. We may begin to notice symptoms such as digestive disorders, allergies, sore joints, and a host of other chronic conditions.
Chronic inflammation is epidemic in the Western world—just take a stroll down the aisles of your local drug store and count the hundreds of over-the-counter remedies designed to provide temporary relief of inflammation (i.e. ibuprofen, aspirin, cortisone creams, allergy pills, and antacids). In acute situations, these remedies are valuable. Unfortunately, many of us take these every day, masking little fires all over our bodies.
Conditions Caused by Inflammation:
• Any autoimmune condition
• Suppressed thyroid function
• Impaired liver function
• Adrenal fatigue
• Allergies and sensitivities
• Asthma and bronchitis
• Acid reflux
• Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
• Sugar or alcohol dependency
• Chronic infections—fungal, bacterial, or viral
• Slow healing or recovery
• Systemic Candida
• Chronic pain
• Heart disease
• Diabetes, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome
• Skin conditions such as dermatitis, acne, eczema psoriasis
• Chronic digestive symptoms, GERD, IBD, IBS, Crohn’s
• Arthritis (degenerative osteoarthritis)
• High blood pressure
• High cholesterol
• Gingivitis and periodontal disease
• Interstitial cystitis
Treating chronic symptoms without addressing the underlying cause just kicks the can down the road (and adds more damage along the way). To remove the inflammation splinter, we need to identify and treat the cause(s).
The Top Major Causes of Inflammation
Chronic emotional stress can be uncomfortable to endure, but even more concerning are the little fires that may start in the body as a result. Studies have shown that chronic stress raises the levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines such as IL-6, which are associated with cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, arthritis, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, periodontal disease, and accelerated aging.45 Chronic stress affects literally every cell in the body!46
Sugar and White Flour: the Toxic Twins
Sugar and white flour are finally being recognized for what they are: highly toxic, body-burdening “foods” that cause inflammation and a deadly array of harmful effects on the body. On average, people eating the SAD (Standard American Diet) consume a staggering 160 lbs. of sugar and 200 lbs. of white flour per year. These deadly white powders spike blood sugar, which contributes to the twin epidemics of obesity and diabetes. Sugar, in all its forms—high-fructose corn syrup, and the “healthy,” but just as harmful forms such as organic cane sugar, brown rice syrup and agave—is a hidden ingredient in countless processed foods such as ketchup, baked goods, and many other everyday, “healthy” foods.
It’s tempting to break off a piece of warm toasted French bread, a biscuit, or a dinner roll fresh from the oven and feel these are “real” foods, more virtuous than a dessert. But actually, from your body’s point of view, eating white bread products is not much different than spooning table sugar into your mouth. White bread is particularly bad, because of its structure. The yeast in bread causes it to have a bubbly structure, like a sponge. This means that it has tremendous exposed surface area, so when it hits your digestive system, it gets turned into sugar almost as fast as cotton candy. Similarly, angel hair pasta, although it has the same ingredients as thick noodles like ziti, will spike blood sugar more quickly. But whatever form white flour comes in, it is always harmful.
White flour and sugar can cause inflammation and disease by forming advanced glycation end-products, or AGEs. When certain proteins react with sugar, AGEs are produced, resulting in damaged, cross-linked proteins. When immune cells respond to these AGEs, they secrete large amounts of inflammatory chemicals. Appropriate to their acronym, AGEs accelerate aging and diseases we associate with aging. Arthritis, cataracts, memory loss, diabetes, and wrinkles are some of the sweet treats that sugar can bestow through AGEs.
Besides the toxic duo above, there are other carbs that are almost as bad. The body converts many so called “healthy” foods into sugar so quickly that the result is very unhealthy. The measurement of how quickly a food is converted into sugar is called its glycemic index. The glycemic index is a scale of one to one hundred, with pure glucose sugar at the top of the scale at 100.
A more sophisticated measure of the glycemic effects of foods is called “glycemic load.” Glycemic load considers the actual amount of carbohydrates present in a typical serving of a food. A glycemic load number below 10 is considered low, 11-19 medium, and 20 or above is high. For example, while watermelon has a high glycemic index number of 72, its glycemic load number is only 7.21 because of the limited amount of carbs in a serving.
Excess consumption of high-glycemic foods has not only been strongly linked to obesity and diabetes, but even to cancer and heart disease. White rice, white pasta, white flour, and white potatoes are common high-glycemic offenders. Substitute sweet potatoes or yams in any recipe calling for white potatoes. If you are sure you don’t have sensitivity, substitute brown rice for white rice (many Asian restaurants offer it if you ask). Another option is quinoa, which is a seed, not a grain, and also a complete protein. Go to www.thethyroidcure.com/glycemicload to calculate the glycemic load of the foods in your diet and cut back on the ones higher on the glycemic scale.
Remember that all high-glycemic foods cause inflammation and accelerate aging!
Partially Hydrogenated Oils: Trans Fats, Bad Saturated Fats
Most of the fats and oils in the American diet, as well as most of the fats in processed foods, are inflammatory because they contain excessive amounts of the wrong kinds of fat. Processed foods are typically loaded with oils that encourage inflammation, such as corn, soy, peanut, safflower, sunflower, and canola oils.
Partially hydrogenated oils (trans-fatty acids) are highly inflammatory, and are still found in all sorts of processed and restaurant foods. These highly toxic, factory-made fats sabotage the activity of enzymes that make anti-inflammatory compounds, but allow other enzymes to produce pro-inflammatory substances.
Unlike the wild animals we once consumed, conventionally and corn-fed cattle, poultry, and farmed fish contain excessive amounts of inflammatory saturated fats.
Splenda® Sucralose is a synthetic compound created by chlorinating sugar, and it causes a host of problems. It has been found to shrink thymus glands (remember, this is where your T-cells learn to protect you) and produce liver inflammation in rats and mice. Chlorine also disrupts iodine molecules in the body, causing them to be excreted. This, of course, worsens thyroid conditions. While manufacturers claim the chlorine in sucralose is identical to that in table salt, the reality is that it has a chemical structure that more closely resembles that of the pesticide DDT. Sucralose consumption is associated with numerous reported side effects, including liver and kidney problems, stomach cramps and diarrhea, inflammation, vertigo, bladder problems, headaches, and muscle aches. According to a study conducted by Duke University, sucralose diminishes crucial healthy bacteria in the gut, which, as you’ve already learned, can cause a host of health issues!47
Equal® and NutraSweet® Aspartame is found in more than 6,000 products, such as toothpaste, cough medicine, gum, breath mints, sports and juice drinks, and, of course, soda.
Even in low doses, aspartame has been linked to a variety of diseases and conditions, including:
• Chronic fatigue
• Multiple sclerosis
• Rheumatoid arthritis
Sweet ‘N Low® Saccharin was accidentally discovered in 1878 by two chemists working on coal tar derivatives at Johns Hopkins University, when one of them noticed a sweet taste on his hands at dinner one evening.48 These days, saccharin is made by combining anthranilic acid with nitrous acid, sulfur dioxide, chlorine, and ammonia. Saccharin is primarily benzoic sulfide, a sulfa-based compound. People with sulfa allergies who ingest saccharin have reported side effects such as diarrhea, nausea, and skin problems. Saccharin has also been shown to cause bladder cancer in rats.
Hidden Allergies and Sensitivities
Allergies and sensitivities are a major cause of inflammation for most people with autoimmune conditions. But why do people have allergies in the first place? Even though one out of every five Americans today suffers from allergies, and even more suffer from sensitivities such as gluten intolerance, modern medicine still can’t seem to figure out why so many people are having allergic reactions to their environments. Instead, doctors are quick to prescribe medications for their patients that merely mask the symptoms. Sadly, many people rely on prescription and over-the-counter medications for years, and yet their conditions never improve.
There are many hypotheses about why we are becoming more sensitive. One is the hygiene theory, which postulates that the environments we are living in are too clean (sterile), and as a result, our immune systems don’t fully mature. Another theory is that we are stressed-out, our guts are a mess, and we’re exposed to too many environmental toxins, including GMOs and many types of processed foods. I think it’s a combination of both!
Common Hidden Food Sensitivities:
Nightshades Legumes (peanuts are legumes)
Nuts MSG and other food additives
Chronic and Low-grade Infections
Many times, low-grade chronic infections precede an autoimmune condition. In other cases, it’s an acute infection or virus that turns out to be “the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” and a person experiences a full-blown autoimmune attack.
These infections may or may not be symptomatic, and include:
• Viruses such as Epstein-Barr, herpes, hepatitis B, coxsackie B, and parvovirus B-19
• Chronic fungal infections such as Candida albicans
• Helicobacter pylori
• Yersinia enterocolitica
• Periodontal disease and/or infected root canals or dental implants
• Proteus mirabilis infection of the urinary tract
• Mycoplasma infections, which cause pneumonia and can linger
for years after the initial exposure. (Many people who get “walking pneumonia” report never feeling the same afterwards.)
• Chlamydia, which can be silent and may infect the respiratory or urogenital regions (as a sexually transmitted infection.)
• Mycobacterium Tuberculosis
• Other infections, such as Brucella, Borrelia burgdorferi, Streptococcus, and Staphylococcus
• Chronic sinusitis: The Mayo Clinic did a study in 1999 that found fungus in the sinuses of 96 percent of patients with chronic sinusitis.49 Since that time, many doctors have helped their patients reverse autoimmune symptoms by treating their sinusitis with antifungal drugs along with healthy lifestyle choices.
It’s important to note that not only can some of these infections trigger an autoimmune condition, but many also interfere with normal thyroid function and the conversion of T4 to T3 in the liver and GI tract.
We are living in a world where we are immersed in tens of thousands of man-made chemicals everyday. By the time we get to work in the morning, we are already eating, breathing, and wearing most of them. All environmental toxins are inflammatory. Even low doses of some of these toxins can derange your immune system and result in inflammatory autoimmune disease. Examples of such toxins include adhesives, cleaning products, air fresheners, synthetic fibers, plastics, perfumes, and anything that has a “new car” smell. Take a sniff under your kitchen sink. Whatever you can smell is entering your body and having an effect on your health. Indoor air pollution is often much worse than outdoor air pollution!
Being overweight, particularly around the belly, is the cause of excess inflammation as well (not to mention lots of extra wear and tear on your body). The inflammatory effects of excess fat are one of the main hazards of being overweight, and are a cause of higher levels of disease and disability in people who are overweight and obese.
Inflammation was designed by nature as a response to injury, but it’s supposed to subside once the injury heals. Because of all the sources of inflammation in our lives, injuries often never heal completely, and then become sources of inflammation affecting the whole body. Athletes, especially those who have played contact sports, often have disabling problems with injuries as they age.
Research indicates that being sedentary, particularly sitting for long periods of time in chairs, is associated with a variety of deleterious effects, including inflammation and insulin resistance. These effects are not canceled for people who sit for long periods and then do a rigorous workout. Research indicates that women are much more seriously affected than men.
Research indicates that nutritional deficiencies can cause inflammation. Deficiencies in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamin D all contribute to chronic inflammation. Deficiency in iron can cause inflammation and anemia, which affects the conversion of T4 to T3. The good news is that correcting deficiencies by proper nutrition and supplementation is one of the simplest things you can do right away to calm the inflammatory response in your body.
Michelle Corey, C.N.W.C., FMC, is a Wellness Recovery Specialist, Certified Nutrition and Wellness Consultant, researcher and author. Michelle studied holistic nutrition at Clayton College of Natural Health and completed a comprehensive 2-year practical program at Academy of Functional Medicine and Genomics. Since reversing her autoimmune condition, Michelle has helped hundreds of people reverse autoimmune and other chronic conditions. She is currently an advisor to the Academy of Functional Medicine and Genomics and the Functional Medical University. She is a member of the Institute of Functional Medicine and the National Association of Healthcare Advocacy Consultants. Michelle and offers Functional Mind-Body healing retreats, workshops and online courses.
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